The doctrine of Imputation

To impute is to “attribute (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to a person or persons vicariously; ascribe as derived from another.” 1

In this article we will look the two things that God imputes to people, namely, 1) Imputation of sin 2) Imputation of righteousness

Imputation of sin

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned- (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)” (Romans 5:12-17)

So what does the Bible it mean by: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.“?

When God made man, He made Him “in His own Image” (Gen. 1:27). He was made in a sinless and innocent state, and in communion with God. God then gave Adam one commandment “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16-17)

After the serpent tempted the woman and she to eat the of the tree, she ate and gave to here husband. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” all of a sudden they were no longer innocent, the knew they were naked. And then they started feeling guilty (cf. Gen. 3:8) because they had sinned against God.

If we go back to what God said would happen if man sins, we find God said man would die. What did He mean by this? I believe this refers to spiritual (Eph. 2:1), mortal (Gen. 3:19) and eternal death (dan. 12:2). Spiritual in the sense that man becomes a slave to sin. Mortal death in the sense that man will dies mortally. And eternally in the sense that the sinner must suffer in hell eternally.

But when Adam our first father sinned, his sin was imputed or counted on all mankind, he was our representative. That does not mean that a person will answer for Adam's sin on judgment day. This means that every person who is born after Adam is now born in the fallen state, we are all born under the bondage of sin and we will all die.

“I'm aware that cats were not there. Which opens the door to charges of “that's not fair”. But God is not subject to fallen notions of fairness, besides, when it comes to God's glory, most could care less. We can't measure how we chase sand treasures and banned pleasures similar to our ancestors. So instead of saying if you were there what you would do, seek your refuge in Adam number two.” Shai Linne, In Adam all die

Which brings us to our next point…

Imputation of Righteousness

“What Christ has done for all who are in him is far greater than what Adam did for all who were in him.” John Piper

“Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:18-21)

Here we find the statement “by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous”. One thing we must agree on is that God can't just overlook sin, His justice must be satisfied. He must punish sin. God is also holy and hates sin, and He wants His law kept perfectly. But here's the problem, man is under the bondage of sin and He can't keep the law of God perfectly. So then “How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? If even the moon does not shine, And the stars are not pure in His sight, How much less man, who is a maggot, And a son of man, who is a worm?”” (Job 25:4-6)

God must provide. But God must not just provide someone to keep His law perfectly He must also provide Someone to suffer His eternal wrath. But since man sinned, man must fulfill the law, and again that man must be God (infinite), because only an infinite being can suffer the eternal wrath of God in time. So the representative must be a God-Man, fully God and fully man (see hypostatic-union). There is one such person, Jesus Christ.

Christ came and kept the law of God perfectly (cf. Rom. 8:4), He became the sinless lamb of God. And on the cross, all our sins were imputed to Him and His perfect righteousness to all who believe in Him. And He suffered the full wrath of God for His sheep on the cross (cf. Isa. 53, Joh. 10:15). And on the cross, God looked at Christ as if He had broken every law so that He can look at us as if we have kept the law perfectly. Yes God loves us with the same love He has for His Son (cf. 17:23).

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

How righteousness is imputed

So how do we receive this Righteousness? By faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Yes, just faith. No work of our own, but that of Christ!

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:” (Romans 4:4-6)

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Galatians 5:5)

Works can NEVER save a man, for we would be required to keep the law perfectly, but no man can keep the law perfectly.

“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

Three Imputations

Here's something important. When Christ was on the cross our sins were imputed to Him, and His perfect righteousness to us. So there are altogether three imputations involved. The first is Adam's sin imputed to us. The second is Christ's righteousness imputed to us. And finally our sins imputed to Christ.

What about works?

What then, since we are justified (declared righteous) by faith alone and Christ's perfect righteousness becomes imputed to us freely, can we go on sinning? Why do good works at all? I'm sure if Paul was around He would say, “Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2) Good works are a result of justification, not the cause of it (cf. Eph. 2:10). So now that we are freed from sin (Cf. Rom. 6:18) we do good works to please God and we want to please God, as a result of our regeneration (see regeneration).


Everyone is born a sinner as a result of Adams sin, we are all born under the bondage of sin. God sent a second Adam, Jesus Christ, so that all who are in Him can be freed from sin and counted righteous before God. The moment we believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, God credits Christ's righteousness to us. There are altogether three imputations: Adams sin to us, Our sins to Christ and His Righteousness to us.

“No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.” Charles Wes­ley

See also:
Philippians 3:1-11

Soli Deo Gloria